“Environmental problems have contributed to numerous collapses of civilizations in the past. Now, for the first time, a global collapse appears likely. Overpopulation, overconsumption by the rich and poor choices of technologies are major drivers; dramatic cultural change provides the main hope of averting calamity.” ~ Paul & Anne Ehrlich
Experts on the health of our planet are terrified of the future. They can clearly see the coming collapse of global civilization from an array of interconnected environmental problems. “We’re all scared,” said Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University. “But we must tell the truth about what’s happening and challenge people to do something to prevent it,” Ehrlich told IPS.
Global collapse of human civilization seems likely, write Ehrlich and his partner Anne Ehrlich in the prestigious science journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society. This collapse will take the form of a “…gradual breakdown because famines, epidemics and resource shortages cause a disintegration of central control within nations, in concert with disruptions of trade and conflicts over increasingly scarce necessities”, they write.
Already two billion people are near starvation today. Food production is humanity’s biggest industry and is already being affected by climate and other environmental problems. “No civilization can avoid collapse if it fails to feed its population,” the authors say.
Escalating climate disruption, ocean acidification, oceanic dead zones, depletion of groundwater and extinctions of plants and animals are the main drivers of the coming collapse, they write in their peer-reviewed article “Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?” published this week.
Dozens of earth systems experts were consulted in writing the 10-page paper that contains over 160 references. “We talked to many of the world’s leading experts to reflect what is really happening,” said Ehrlich, who is an eminent biologist and winner of many scientific awards.
Our reality is that current overconsumption of natural resources and the resulting damage to life-sustaining services nature provides means we need another half of a planet to keeping going. And that’s if all seven billion remain at their current living standards, the Ehrlichs write.
If everyone lived like a U.S. citizen, another four or five planets would be needed.
Global population is projected to increase by 2.5 billion by 2050. It doesn’t take an expert to conclude that collapse of civilization will be unavoidable without major changes. “We’re facing a future where billions will likely die, and yet little is being done to avoid certain disaster,” he said. “Policy makers and the public aren’t terrified about this because they don’t have the information or the knowledge about how our planet functions,” he said.
Last March, the world’s scientific community provided the first-ever “state of the planet” assessment at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London. More than 3,000 experts concluded humanity is facing a “planetary emergency” and there was no time to lose in making large-scale changes.
In 2010, a coalition of the national scientific bodies and international scientific unions from 141 countries warned that “the continued functioning of the Earth system as we know it is at risk”. “The situation is absolutely desperate and yet there’s nothing on the front pages or on the agenda of world leaders,” said Pat Mooney, head of the international environmental organization ETC Group. “The lack of attention is a tragedy,” Mooney told IPS.
Solutions exist and are briefly outlined in the Ehrlich paper. However, these require sweeping changes. All nations need to do everything they can to reduce their emissions due to fossil fuels regardless of actions or lack of them by any other country, Ehrlich said.
Protection of the Earth’s biodiversity must take center stage in all policy and economic decisions. Water and energy systems must be re-engineered. Agriculture must shift from fossil-fuel intensive industrial monocultures to ecologically-based systems of food production. Resilience and flexibility will be essential for civilization to survive.
A key element in meeting this unprecedented challenge is “…to see ourselves as utterly embedded in Nature and not somehow separate from those precious systems that sustain all life”, writes England’s Prince Charles commenting on the Ehrlich’s paper.
“To continue with ‘business as usual’ is an act of suicide on a gargantuan scale,” Prince Charles concluded.
Stephen Leahy is the senior science and environment correspondent for Inter Press Service News, the world’s largest not-for-profit news agency. Source: IPS News agency, January 11, 2013. <http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/01/experts-fear-collapse-of-global-civilisation/>